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What Qatar may want from India to free 8 ex-Navy men: Here are 5 guesses

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What Qatar may want from India to free 8 ex-Navy men: Here are 5 guesses

Whatever the reason, the current impasse smells of a bargaining chip. It will be surprising if the eight Indian men are executed instead of being used as pawns in a larger negotiation

Abhijit Majumder Last Updated:October 27, 2023 10:23:31 IST What Qatar may want from India to free 8 ex-Navy men: Here are 5 guesses

Qatar has sentenced eight former Indian Navy personnel to death on charges of espionage. PTI

The outrage over a Qatar court handing the death penalty to eight Indian ex-Navy personnel is deafening and understandable.

Qatar has for the last few years acted like a wannabe caliphate and an Islamist sanctuary. It hosts terror inciter Zakir Naik while coming after Nupur Sharma for quoting the Hadiths. Zakir is just one species in the entire menagerie of terrorists that Qatar hosts, from Taliban mullahs to Hamas leaders. Even fellow Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and UAE treat it with deep distrust.

But statecraft is a bit different from batting in the slog overs.

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More than 8 lakh Indians work in Qatar. It is the 7th largest exporter of oil to India at 14,000 barrels a day. Qatar and the United States are strategic allies, designated as a major non-NATO ally.

It is neither easy nor wise to up and leave one fine day in international relations. There are webs connected with other webs of influence, veils behind veils of motives, leverage and negotiations. Even though India’s military expenditure of $66 billion is 10 times more than Qatar’s and it has 20 times more active defence personnel, it cannot act recklessly. Timing and place of any diplomatic action make the difference between victory and defeat.

So, why has Qatar chosen to create this situation with India now?

First, the timing and allegations are interesting. Qatar has accused the eight Indian former navy officers of spying for Israel. Why now? Does it have to do with the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and India’s increasingly open support for Israel? Does it want to embarrass India on the world stage showing its citizens as Israeli spies?

If it is to bring India back to its old, unquestioning pro-Palestine position, that is not going to happen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s barbaric attack on the Israeli kibbutz. But later, India clarified that its old position on a two-state solution is unchanged and it has also dispatched substantial humanitarian aid for the civilian victims in Gaza.

If that is what Qatar wanted, we may see a pardon to the eight accused soon.

However, the second possibility is that Qatar wants to derail the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel, Saudi’s imminent step of joining it, and India’s growing closeness with the nascent Israel-UAE-Saudi axis. If completed, that axis will severely curb Qatar’s influence in the Middle East.

Third, Qatar perhaps views the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor with suspicion and resents that its friends like China, Turkey and Pakistan have not been invited to play.

Fourth, the fact that India has severely clamped down on Islamist funding from the Gulf through shadowy NGOs and charities does not endear it to Qatar. The Israeli spy allegation and death penalty could be pressure tactics to make India open those taps again.

Fifth, the fear that India is getting more assertive, coupled with Justin Trudeau’s bizarre and unsubstantiated claims of India-backed hits on foreign soil, could have made the Five Eyes (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) nervous, especially with New Delhi ousting 41 Canadian diplomats to restore parity of numbers. Pakistan keeps complaining about R&AW actions on its land. Qatar, a close US ally, could be used to send a message.

Whatever the reason, the current impasse smells of a bargaining chip. It will be surprising if the eight Indian men are executed instead of being used as pawns in a larger negotiation.

The author is contributing editor, Firstpost. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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